Solving pain means being stubborn

Pain is something I take very seriously.  I have fought with repetitive strain injuries, joint weakness, sports injuries and seemingly inexplicable, crippling, and extremely tiring chronic pain of all kinds since I was 16 when an ocean wave did my back in.  I know pain well, and I know that its causes are myriad!  From my experiences with pain and my studies of various theories of pain, I can tell you three very important things.  Here are the first two:

  1. Pain happens for a reason.
  2. You can beat it if you can figure out the reason.

Now, I know this sounds pretty basic, but it’s pretty key to how you approach getting rid of chronic pain.  Everyone agrees about these two things, except that a lot of the tools and diagnostic tests employed to beat pain don’t work in the long run.

Let’s look at the medical treatments available.  Does a hip replacement restore your ability to run around and play sports?  No.  It just displaces your pain (like up into your back or off into your other hip).  Does ibuprofen address the actual cause of your inflammation and discomfort?  No.  It just reduces the inflammation that’s there to protect your body from the damage of something being tweaked out of place.  Do fibromyalgia drugs uproot the cause of the fibrotic, tense texture of your muscular tissues?  No!  They put your brain in a dysfunctional haze that blocks the pain sensations flying around your body.

So what else is available besides drugs and surgery?  Well, there are a few.  Physical therapy is a pretty good one — on the off chance that you find a physical therapist who has a very good understanding of how to find the cause of your pain (rather than just focusing directly on the point where you feel pain).  Massage therapists may work for you as well, if they have a good understanding of what’s going on and how to deal with it and if the problem is limited to one thing being tight.  Just lying on the ground and relaxing may be useful as well (as your hip flexors may finally get a chance to relax and stop throwing your completely out of whack).

I’ve never had luck with acupuncture or straight rack-em-and-crack-em chiropractic.  I’ve had short-lived temporary relief from both modalities, despite strong promises that all would be solved quickly. When my practitioners couldn’t actually help me solve the pain for longer than a few hours, they’d resort to statements like, “it must have a psychological/spiritual component” (this one might be familiar to some chronic pain sufferers out there who can’t find relief from their doctors), and I have never, ever been satisfied by that.

Which brings me to my final point:

3. If someone attributes your pain to some ill-defined psychological or spiritual cause, it means they have no clue what’s causing your pain.

If you have chronic pain and chronic fatigue syndrome, consider this: your whole body is completely out of alignment and it’s working hard to keep you upright.  Your body has gotten so far out of its physiologically efficient posture to one that requires muscles all over your body to do work they cannot efficiently do.  If your hip muscles aren’t doing their job, your ankle muscles need to compensate.  If your shoulders slump forward, your spinal muscles must compensate and do work that they aren’t designed to do.

If you address the underlying structural dysfunctions (something neither doctors nor psychiatrists have bothered to try), your body will feel much better and your stamina will increase.  I speak from experience both personal and professional.  Pain is a signal of underlying dysfunctions.  Relief doesn’t always happen in a split second, but if you find the right way to treat it, positive change should be felt quickly.

I know there are other ways to approach pain: mindfulness based stress reduction and other psychological approaches to pain can be useful.  Therapies geared toward greater acceptance of your pain can be useful if you really have a situation that is completely intractable, but it’s best to do some personal work to make sure it’s intractable before you  start to really accept the physical limitations that accompany your pain.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.